February 24, 2011

Few Women Receive Rehab Treatment

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More than 60 percent of the women in Oklahoma’s prisons have been identified as needing substance abuse treatment, but few will be able to access a program, according to a 2010 state report about female incarceration.

Education courses are more difficult for the same reasons—space limitation, time required and funding cuts, state officials say.

Of the 2,760 women in prison last year, 1,744, or 63 percent, were identified as needing substance abuse treatment. Oklahoma Department of Corrections has 188 beds for treating women for substance addictions.

“We’re not going to put someone in treatment who is not going to complete the program,” said Laura Pitman, deputy director of female offender operations for the state Department of Corrections. “There is an assumption that if someone is sent to prison, they can get treatment. They don’t understand how limited the resources are.”

Completion of a substance abuse treatment program takes four to 12 months. The average sentence for a non-violent offender, which is how most drug convictions are categorized, is about 13 months, according to Oklahoma Department of Corrections data.

Each year, half of the female prison population turns over, Pitman said.

“There has never been a sufficient number of beds,” she said.

Among the women released by the end of fiscal year 2010, 885 offenders had a need for substance abuse treatment, but only 28 percent had completed a program.

“It’s a money issue first and a logistics issue second,” Pitman said. “Logistics is a time issue; how much time is a woman serving? Can she get into and complete a program?”

Similarly, education services are also limited in accessibility.

The continuum of general education is literacy, adult basic education and then a GED program. Life skills, CareerTech, and college courses, which are not funded by the agency or with state money, are also offered.

About 71 percent of women coming into prison were in need of basic education, according to an Oklahoma Department of Corrections report. About 1,500 participated in a basic education program last year. That number may contain duplicates, meaning a woman can be in more than one class.

Women may enroll or get on a waiting list to enroll in education programs, even if they won’t finish the course.

“They can still get in, move forward and progress in their education,” Pitman said.

Career Tech offers several programs in the prisons, including the electrical and manufacturing trades, said Jim Meek, superintendent of the skills centers, which work with the prison population.

In 2010, 329 women participated in CareerTech programs—222 completing, 82 being retained and 22 not completing for reasons such as transfer, parole, disciplinary action or discharge.

The agency steers inmates away from health fields and other areas known for having bans or limitations on providing licenses to people with felony convictions. Manufacturing, which is inventory and warehouse skills, and computer classes are among the most popular.

“We have so many people in prison and being locked up. The more we can do to help them with good programs and a system providing job opportunities, we can keep them from going back. We can make a big dent in our recidivism rate,” Meek said.

Substance abuse treatment is funded through private and federal dollars, with the state required to match the federal grants, for a total budget of $611,404. Of that total, the federal portion is $161,050 and the Tulsa-based George Kaiser Family Foundation contributes $200,514.

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections spends about $74,000 to offer basic education classes. CareerTech spends $5.7 million on skills programs in prisons. Of that total, $627,513 is spent on programs for female inmates, according to the current budget.

The disparity may be that 90 percent of the total inmate population are men.

“If you want to protect public safety, then you want to release someone in better shape than when they entered. Education and substance abuse treatment are two things that will have a positive impact on recidivism,” Pitman said. “Are we under a mandate to offer these programs? No. Does it make sense to protect public safety? Absolutely.”